The murder of Grac Jones: Chapter 7

Published 6:56 pm Saturday, August 1, 2015

The inquest

EDITOR’S NOTE: On the evening of Oct. 26, 1908, five shots rang out in the village of Holland. Tiberius Gracchus “Grac” Jones lay dying on the ground inside the gate leading to his home. “They have killed me and killed me for telling the truth,” he told a friend as his life ebbed away. This is the seventh in a series of articles about the Jones murder case. Suffolk historian Kermit Hobbs Jr. compiled the 18-part series from personal accounts, newspaper stories and court records he has studied from the period.

By Kermit Hobbs Jr.

The Norfolk Virginian-Pilot reported on Oct. 28, 1908, “The neighborhood fabric around Holland had been rent for weeks. The murder has thrown the community into a fever ferment and rumors fly like December hail.”

Email newsletter signup

It added that authorities were keeping quiet about their findings. “Some … make a noise as eloquently as a muzzled clam and appear burdened with the weight of detective knowledge that would make Sherlock Holmes look like a pancake.”

Augustus Holland

Augustus Holland

On Thursday and Friday, Oct. 29 and 30, just days after the shooting, a coroner’s inquest was held on the second floor of the Holland Edible Nut Co. warehouse to examine evidence against Sam Hardy. According to one newspaper account, “Not only the witnesses, but spectators and everyone else in the building was kept under strong guard, no one being allowed to leave the scene until the evidence taking was completed. This warning was given by the Commonwealth’s Attorney and enforced by five officers.”

As preparations were made to begin, Bunyan Jones “gazed fixedly at the man he believed was his brother’s slayer. His face became livid, his eyes seemed to bore into the innermost depths of Hardy’s thought, and his facial muscles twitched with an emotion that appeared uncontrollable.”

Jones stood up and stepped forward toward Hardy, but he was grabbed by two officers before he could harm the accused man. The officers discovered that Jones was carrying two concealed pistols. An order was then given to search everyone else in the building, and a number of pistols were found, including one carried by one of the lawyers in the case.

The inquest was conducted by Magistrate J.F. DeBerry before a jury of six local men.

John R. Johnson testified that he had heard Hardy say, referring to Jones, “I am going to kill him, damn him.”

Ryland Holland testified that he had heard someone say he would give 10 cents to see Hardy and Jones meet in the Dismal Swamp. Hardy had replied saying the he would give $50 for such a meeting, and he would work nights to pay it.

Sol Butler testified that Hardy had left his store at 8:30 p.m. the evening of the shooting, and when he left, he took a pistol from the drawer and put it in his pocket.

It was determined that Hardy had had an Ithaca double-barrel shotgun in his store. Sam Pete Holland testified that he had purchased the gun from Hardy but later traded it back to him for a rifle. Holland, who worked for Hardy in the store, testified that 12- gauge shotgun shells with No. 6 shot were carried in the store’s inventory.

Sam Hardy lived in a boarding house just across the road from his store, and A.A. “Gus” Holland, owner of the boarding house, testified that Hardy had come home early in the evening of the 26th. He said that Hardy complained of feeling ill, and he had taken medicine and was in his bed when Holland walked through his room at 10 p.m.

Hardy was asked directly, “Did you threaten to kill Jones?” He answered candidly, “I made it frequently — that is, if he came into my store and bothered me.”

Hardy was asked if he owned an Ithaca shotgun. He replied that he did have one but that he recently had sold it to a man from North Carolina who was passing through town. He admitted to owning a .32 caliber pistol that he carried home with him every night.

The jury considered the evidence given, and at 4 p.m. it brought back its verdict. Sam Hardy was arrested for the murder of Grac Jones and taken to the jail in Suffolk to await his preliminary trial in late November.

TUESDAY: The local reaction

Previous: Chapter 6